the heat death of the universe

When I was in senior high, I was in a play called “Postponing the Heat Death of the Universe” by Steve Gregg. The story is about a college sophomore (Nick) who lost a prestigious scholarship to a junior (Jackie ). He then sulks in his defeat by lying motionless in bed under a sheet, claiming to be postponing the heat death of the universe.

This is an actual scientific theory. I could try to explain it, but since you are reading my blog I would suspect you have equal access to Google and Wikipedia, so I’ll let you look it up for yourself. To summarize in a non-scientific, Homer Simpson kind of way, it basically implies that since energy is eventually converted to heat (right?), and then heat eventually dissipates (or something), that at some point the universe will have used up all its energy and will subsequently have nothing left to sustain itself. The world would literally – in theory – stop turning on its axis. I think. I don’t know, just stop judging me and look it up.

I was reminded of this when some co-workers and I were talking about rage. Actually, it was more like anger over petty things like bad driving. Some of us at the table were of the opinion that it’s helpful and cathartic to express rage in some small fashion, like screaming in the car or uttering less-than-ladylike words. Some of us believed that these types of emotions were better off unacknowledged, because they tend to get aggravated the more you yell and scream.

I guess it depends on the person – there are some who only need to yell for a moment and then feel better, while others are better off just taking a deep breath and counting to ten. Either way, I wonder; if the theory of the heat death of the universe were true, do you think that anger would propel us to our own non-existence? Anger is a powerful emotion, and you can tell how much energy you use by being angry because your face gets all hot, your skin goes red, your blood starts to rush into your head. If there were some sort of energy reserve for the universe, I’m sure that the collective temper tantrums of humans everywhere are quickly depleting it.

However, what about love? Joy? Hope? I’ve been spending a lot of time these last few months thinking about my hopes and dreams, and the mixture of joy, anticipation and sheer vividness of my ambitions consistently sends my heart racing.  That’s energy in motion, and I’m sure I would also be using up just as much energy with those things as I do with any of my fits.

Here’s what I think. As far as we’ve seen, everything in the world is finite. Stars burn out, mountains fall, and emperors and regimes come to an end. It’s not hard to imagine that one day, the universe will find no more energy for the planets to turn on their axes, for the sun to burn, and the moon to stay in its place. If that were true, and there were only so much energy to go around, wouldn’t we want to spend it on the good things in life? If you only had so much energy to use up, why would you waste it on pointless moments of rage directed towards another person who a) doesn’t know you from Stan, b) doesn’t care who you are, c) probably has no idea that they made you mad in the first place? Why would you let yourself burn up from the inside about things you have no control over, or mistakes you can never make right? Why would you choose to carry the burden of a grudge or cry over a broken heart for months, even years?

Everyone needs to vent, cry and hit things every once in a while. That’s why we work out, go running or watch Sleepless in Seattle and use up whole boxes of Kleenex. We are emotional creatures, and our hearts need to be tipped over and emptied every once in a while. However, while I’m not sure about the heat death of the universe, I think it’s a general consensus that we as humans are finite. The earth may keep spinning long after we are gone, but we can be sure that we will all one day bite the dust. When that time comes, would you want to look back on your life and count more moments of rage than joy? More anxiety than hope? More bitterness than reconciliation? Would you want people to remember you by the grudges you carried and the bridges you burned, or the people you forgave, accepted and loved?

Life is short. For good measure, when you find yourself wasting precious energy on flicking someone off on the road or talking smack about your boss, take a second to feel your heart beating in your chest. Remember that it won’t keep beating forever. And now would be as good a time as any to make sure that while it beats, that it is full of the things that are good in life. Love. Joy. Hope. You might not be postponing the heat death of the universe, but you’d definitely be making your own life worth living. 🙂


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